E3 2019: Bethesda wades into cloud gaming with Project Orion

Bethesda is planting its stake in the ground with new technology and a unique approach to streaming through optimization at the game engine level.

Stadia, xCloud, PS Now, Shadow -- cloud gaming continues to be a top priority for major platform holders and now game publishers like Bethesda. During their E3 press conference, Bethesda unveiled its foray into the cloud with Project Orion. James Altman, director of publishing operations, and Robert Duffy, CTO at id Software, took the stage to explain what Orion is and demonstrate its capabilities.

"Orion is a tremendous breakthrough in streaming technology," Altman said during the presentation, noting that Orion is meant to augment rather than compete with other cloud services. "It is our name for a group of patented technologies that optimize game engines for performance in a cloud environment. Orion can work with any game engine and will improve experiences no matter which game you're playing or whether you're streaming on Stadia, on xCloud, or another streaming platform."

These patented technologies, wrapped in an SDK for developers to use in their games, were demonstrated in a hands-on event offered to the media. GamesIndustry.biz was at the event pre-E3 and noted that Orion "currently has four patented technologies implemented, with another two on the way, and a number of others with patent applications in the works."

Id Tech has been on the bleeding edge of innovation for years, as Altman pointed out during Orion's reveal. By focusing on optimizing the games for streaming at the engine level, id is positioning itself as a middleware add-on for the new generation of gaming.

"The exciting game streaming services you've been hearing so much about are largely focused on hardware solutions to address the complex challenges of streaming," Duffy noted during the presentation. "By incorporating Orion technology at the game engine level, we're able to stream game content 20% faster per frame, leading to a dramatic reduction in latency. In addition, an Orion-enabled game can stream with up to 40% lower bandwidth."

While Bethesda wouldn't come right out and say it, Orion is certainly in alignment with what Phil Spencer has been touting for the last four years at Xbox: gaming is for everyone. If these calculations remain true throughout even the most difficult of regions (for internet connectivity) in the United States, reducing latency and dramatically cutting bandwidth cost provides an opportunity to reach potential players who may not have been able to consider cloud gaming as a viable option.

"There are optimizations that will benefit any game, any game engine, particularly the most difficult ones," Altman added in an interview with GamesIndustry. "But even the simpler ones will have benefits that we'll see."

Cloud gaming is finding its inflection point in the midst of Stadia and xCloud. With Orion at the core, regardless of the hardware solution, gamers from remote parts of the world will be able to partake in their hobby without the sometimes crippling bandwidth costs that are tacked on top of the cost of a console or PC. And with Stadia's astonishing bandwidth usage looming for early adopters, Bethesda is primed to take cloud gaming from potentially untenable to a realistic, desirable alternative to physical media.

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